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AMERICANS LOVE TO “BUY AMERICAN”

buy american

AMERICANS LOVE TO “BUY AMERICAN”

TradeVistas’ September poll shows overwhelming support for “Buy American” policies, while one in four Americans – and nearly 1 in 3 Republicans – say trade is “the most important issue” in their vote for president this election cycle.


“Buy American” is likely to be a prominent campaign theme this fall as Republican President Donald Trump and Democrat party candidate Joe Biden sketch out their plans for reviving the U.S. economy in the midst of a pandemic.

Biden’s aggressive “Buy American” agenda proposes major investments in federal procurement and infrastructure to support domestic manufacturing. Trump, meanwhile, has made “Buy American” a cornerstone of his Administration. After campaigning in 2016 to bring back U.S. jobs lost to global competition, Trump has levied tariffs on foreign steel and aluminum, launched a trade war against China and issued executive orders aimed at ensuring that U.S. companies were the federal government’s preferred suppliers.

TradeVistas’ September poll of 1,003 adults, conducted by Lincoln Park Strategies, shows strong support for “America First” approaches like Buy American. Our survey shows strong bipartisan approval of Buy American federal procurement policies, which a plurality of Americans say would create large numbers of jobs. Americans also say they support Buy American in their personal spending, with a slight majority saying they’d pay a premium for U.S.-made goods. Finally, we find that the Trump’s Administration’s focus on trade policy may have elevated the importance of this issue among many voters, particularly among Republicans and likely Trump voters.


1. Big support for “Buy American.”

Overall, three out of four Americans (75 percent) say they support Buy American policies requiring the federal government to buy from domestic suppliers whenever possible.* Nearly half – 48 percent – say they “strongly support” the policy, while just 5 percent of Americans say they are either “somewhat” or “strongly” opposed, while 21 percent were “indifferent.”

Majority support was consistent across education, race and income, but was strongest among self-described Republicans, 70 percent of whom “strongly support” the policy (compared to 40 percent of Democrats and 37 percent of Independents). Among likely voters, 68 percent of those planning to vote for Trump also said they “strongly support” Buy American, compared to 41 percent among likely Biden voters and 39 percent among those who were undecided. Men were also more likely to be strong supporters (56 percent versus 41 percent).

Q1 Do you support Buy American Policies

2. Strong belief that “Buy American” policies generate jobs

While some prominent economists have criticized Buy American policies as counterproductive and potentially even leading to the loss of U.S. jobs, respondents in our survey believe the opposite. Nearly 4 in 5 respondents (79 percent) say Buy American procurement policies would create jobs, including 41 percent who say it would create “a large number of jobs” and 38 percent who say it would create “some new jobs.” Again, this support was consistent across race, education and income.

Democrats were more skeptical than Republicans, however. While 60 percent of Republicans said Buy American would create many jobs, 36 percent of Democrats said the same. (However, only 2 percent of Democrats said the policy would “hurt American jobs.”) Similarly, likely Trump voters were more likely to say Buy American would create large numbers of jobs compared to likely Biden voters (59 percent versus 31 percent). Undecideds fell in the middle with 42 percent.

Q2 Do Buy American policies create jobs numbers corrected

3. Americans would pay more to Buy American themselves

Americans in our survey seem to support Buy American as a broad statement of economic patriotism and would pay more to buy U.S.-made goods.

Twenty-five percent of respondents in our survey said they would choose an American-made good over a comparable foreign product “regardless of cost,” while 31 percent say they would pay a 10 to 20 percent premium. Another 25 percent said they would buy the U.S. product if it were the same price as a comparable item, while 9 percent said they would purchase the cheaper product, and 10 percent were unsure.

Q3 Would you pay more to Buy American

These results run counter to earlier surveys finding that while the majority of Americans believe it important to buy U.S. products, they are less willing to pony up a premium. A 2017 Reuters/Ipsos poll, for instance, found that while 70 percent of Americans think if “very important” or “somewhat important” to buy U.S. goods, 37 percent said they would not pay more for an American product, while 26 percent said they would pay only up to 5 percent more.

One potential explanation for our results is negative shifting consumer sentiment toward products made in China. A 2020 survey by FTI Consulting, for instance, found that 40 percent of Americans say they won’t buy Chinese-made goods.

Our survey found significant partisan differences over buying American, which indicate a solidification of views likely prompted by Trump. While 46 percent of Republicans said they would buy American regardless of price, just 18 percent of Democrats said the same (although 32 percent of Democrats also said they would be willing to pay a 10 to 20 percent premium). The starkest difference, however, was between Republican men and Democratic women. While 52 percent of Republican men said they would buy American regardless of cost, only 14 percent of Democratic women said they would do so.

Q3 Would you pay more by gender and party

4. Trade as a crucial election issue for key sets of voters

Partisan enthusiasm for Buy American may also translate into the elevation of trade as an election issue for many of the respondents in our survey. Overall, 19 percent of total respondents said a candidate’s position on trade is “the most important issue to me,” while 25 percent said trade is “one of the most important issues” determining their vote for president.

These figures, however, mask significant partisan differences in how likely voters view the importance of trade. For instance, while 66 percent of Republicans in our survey said trade was the most important or among the most important issues to them in their vote for president, half as many Democrats (33 percent) felt the same. Similarly, while 64 percent of likely Trump voters said trade was the most important issue or among the most important election issues to them, 62 percent of likely Biden voters said trade “is important but will not have an effect on my vote” or is “not an issue I really care about.” Trade does, however, seem to matter for undecided voters in our poll; 59 percent considered the issue to be the most important or among the most important in their vote for president.


These results mirror findings showing sharp partisan differences in the issues that matter most to voters this fall. The Pew Research Center, for instance, finds that while the economy is the top concern of Trump voters, Biden supporters are the most concerned about health care and the pandemic. For many Republicans and Trump supporters, the interest in trade policy is likely a proxy for this broader concern over the economy.

Q4 How Important is Trade to your vote


“Buy American” has always made for good politics, tapping into Americans’ strong sense of economic patriotism. But there are a couple reasons why American sentiment toward buying American might be especially strong today, even aside from the particular focus on U.S. production by President Trump.

For one thing, the coronavirus pandemic exposed major weaknesses in global supply chains, reinforcing concerns about U.S. over-reliance on foreign imports, particularly for medicines, medical equipment and other vital products. Boosting domestic production and manufacturing will also be crucial to America’s post-pandemic recovery. So long as millions of Americans remain under-employed or unemployed as a result of COVID-19, federal investment in domestic production or infrastructure could help put Americans back to work.

Given both political parties’ embrace of Buy American, it will be a priority regardless of who wins the White House in November.



*Note: While our survey sought to measure Americans’ perspectives on “Buy American” as a matter of federal policy, we realize that Americans are likely to interpret “Buy American” more broadly, to include personal spending decisions as well as those by the government. Politicians have also added to the confusion by using the phrase “Buy American” to show support for domestic manufacturing and production generally.

Methodology: 1,003 interviews among adults age 18+ were conducted by Lincoln Park Strategies from September 10-12, 2020 using an online survey. The results were weighted to ensure proportional responses. The Bayesian confidence interval for 1,000 interviews is 3.5, which is roughly equivalent to a margin of error of ±3.1 at the 95% confidence level.

Access the polling questions and results by Lincoln Park Strategies here.

Download the full infographic.

TradeVistas Buy American Opinion Poll Infographic

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Anne Kim

Anne Kim is a contributing editor to Washington Monthly and the author of Abandoned: America’s Lost Youth and the Crisis of Disconnection, forthcoming in 2020 from the New Press. Her writings on economic opportunity, social policy, and higher education have appeared in numerous national outlets, including the Washington Monthly, the Washington Post, Governing and Atlantic.com, among others. She is a veteran of the think tanks the Progressive Policy Institute and Third Way as well as of Capitol Hill, where she worked for Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN). Anne has a law degree from Duke University and a bachelor’s in journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia.

the wto

DO AMERICANS WANT THE U.S. TO LEAVE THE WTO?

TradeVistas’ inaugural survey of Americans’ attitudes toward trade shows a plurality support the idea, but most Americans seem unsure of the WTO’s role

Earlier this spring, the U.S. Congress faced the possibility of a vote – the first since 2005 – on whether the United States should withdraw from the World Trade Organization (WTO), a body it helped create.

Leading the effort was Missouri Republican Sen. Josh Hawley, a vocal WTO critic who has called to “abolish” the organization, accusing it of unfairness to U.S. interests and favoritism toward China. Although a procedural issue ultimately scuttled a vote, Hawley’s legislation amplified growing criticism of the WTO, including by the Trump Administration.

But what do ordinary Americans think?

A new poll by TradeVistas, conducted by Lincoln Park Strategies, finds that while a plurality of Americans support leaving the WTO, most Americans either oppose the idea or are unsure what to think. Our poll also finds that while Americans overwhelmingly want the United States to be “the leader of the global economy,” most Americans don’t see membership in the WTO as critical to that goal. These responses imply that most Americans are relatively unaware of the WTO’s role, and that the benefits of U.S. participation are far from obvious to the general public. The results also imply that any momentum for U.S. withdrawal largely reflects the work of a motivated minority, versus a groundswell of public will.

A plurality of Americans support leaving the WTO – but almost as many are “unsure” or “indifferent.”

TradeVistas’ July 2020 survey of 1,000 adults found that 36 percent of Americans support leaving the WTO, including 19 percent who “strongly support” U.S. withdrawal and 17 percent who “somewhat support” the idea. In contrast, 35 percent of Americans say they are “indifferent” or “unsure,” while 28 percent oppose withdrawal, including 18 percent who “strongly” object to the idea.

Q1

Our survey found that 45 percent of men (versus 29 percent of women) approve of leaving the WTO, including 48 percent of white men and 37 percent of men of color. Fully 25 percent of all men “strongly” support the idea, versus only 14 percent of women who feel the same. We also found that 51 percent of men under age 45 support the idea, as do 66 percent of Republican men.

These results, however, reflect broader generational and partisan splits. Overall, 41 percent of Americans under age 45 want the U.S. to leave the WTO as do 57 percent of Republicans. In contrast, the respondents most likely to oppose withdrawal are those over age 65 (42 percent) and Democrats (49 percent). Responses did not differ significantly by education level or by income.

When voters understand the role of the WTO, they are more likely to be supportive of it.

Despite Americans’ seeming indifference or, in some cases, hostility toward U.S. participation in the WTO, many Americans also see how the organization can benefit U.S. companies – once they receive some basic information about the WTO’s role.

After being told that “the job of the WTO is to enforce a set of rules for international trade that the members negotiated, and 164 countries agreed to follow,” 49 percent of survey respondents said it was “definitely true” or “probably true” that “WTO rules help U.S. companies compete on fair terms,” while 48 percent agreed it was definitely or probably true that “WTO rules stop foreign governments from applying unfair requirements to U.S. companies.”

Those most likely to say these statements are true were also those most opposed to the United States’ leaving the WTO. In fact, a whopping 74 percent of those who “strongly” oppose withdrawal say that WTO rules help U.S. compete, while 67 percent say the WTO stops foreign governments from discriminating against U.S. companies.

Interestingly, however, a majority of the respondents who support WTO withdrawal also believe these statements to be true. For instance, 53 percent of those who “strongly” support leaving say the WTO helps companies compete, while 55 percent say the WTO blocks unfair trade rules. This response suggests that for some Americans, opposition to WTO participation could be a “gut-level” response potentially open to tempering.

Q2

Americans want the U.S. to lead the global economy – but don’t see how the WTO can help.

By overwhelming margins – regardless of gender, age, party or race – Americans want to see their country “be the leader of the global economy.” Fully 79 percent of those surveyed rated this goal to be important, including 39 percent who called it “very important.”

Most Americans, however, don’t see WTO membership as instrumental to America’s economic success. When asked if WTO withdrawal “would help or hurt the United States standing as a global leader,” 33 percent of Americans said it would “definitely help” or “probably help,” while 18 percent said “it wouldn’t make a difference” and 13 percent were unsure. Just 36 percent said it would “definitely hurt” or “probably hurt” the United States’ global economic standing to leave the WTO.

Q3

Not surprisingly, those most likely to say that withdrawal would help the U.S. are among the minority who also strongly support leaving the organization. Of those who “strongly” support withdrawal, 58 percent also say this would “definitely help.” In contrast, among those who strongly oppose withdrawal, 70 percent say it would “definitely hurt.” It’s worth remembering, however, that both of these groups are relatively small subsets, substantially outnumbered by those who are indifferent, unsure, or have malleable views.

Q4

Conclusions

The TradeVistas poll findings suggest that the majority of Americans have formed no real opinion on the WTO and that strong support for withdrawal is limited to a minority of – albeit potentially vocal – voters. Even among these Americans, however, it’s possible that their support for withdrawal is based less on deep knowledge of the WTO than on partisan leanings or a general distrust toward institutions. Importantly, more than 40 percent of adults under the age of 45 support withdrawal from the WTO, with an equal amount simply indifferent or unsure.

Without question, our survey is limited in its scope and offers only the briefest of snapshots on American attitudes toward a global institution of long standing and enormous impact. What is clear, however, is that the vacuum of general public knowledge on the WTO could easily be filled by its detractors, if the organization’s defenders allow it.

Methodology: 1000 interviews among adults age 18+ were conducted from July 10-13, 2020 by Lincoln Park Strategies using an online survey. The results were weighted to ensure proportional responses. The Bayesian confidence interval for 1,000 interviews is 3.5, which is roughly equivalent to a margin of error of ±3.1 at the 95% confidence level.

Download the infographic:

TradeVistas | July 2020 WTO Poll America Trade Survey Infographic

Lincoln Park Strategies National Voter Poll Results

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Anne Kim is a contributing editor to Washington Monthly and the author of Abandoned: America’s Lost Youth and the Crisis of Disconnection, forthcoming in 2020 from the New Press. Her writings on economic opportunity, social policy, and higher education have appeared in numerous national outlets, including the Washington Monthly, the Washington Post, Governing and Atlantic.com, among others. She is a veteran of the think tanks the Progressive Policy Institute and Third Way as well as of Capitol Hill, where she worked for Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN). Anne has a law degree from Duke University and a bachelor’s in journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia.

This article originally appeared on TradeVistas.org. Republished with permission.

young workers

YOUNG WORKERS WILL BE THE LONG-TERM CASUALTIES OF COVID-19

They are the ones who will bear the brunt of the coronavirus recession.

A little more than a decade ago, millennial college students graduated into what was then the worst economy in decades. In the United States, the Great Recession wreaked long-term damage on young people, many of whom faced slim job prospects along with mountains of student debt. Compared to earlier generations, these young adults today have less wealth, more debt and are less likely to be financially secure.

Today’s youngest workers could have it even worse. Young workers – who make up a disproportionate share of workers in hospitality, food service, retail and other service industries hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic – are likely to shoulder the worst of the coming recession.

Young workers: first to feel the pain

Young workers have been among the first to feel the pain as the restaurant, retail, and hotel industries reel from the initial impacts of the pandemic. Marriott, for instance, has furloughed tens of thousands of employees. So, too, have Hilton and Hyatt. Many small businesses are forced to close shop or lay off most of their workforce. The National Restaurant Association reports that business dropped by nearly half among its members just in the first half of March.

Labor According to the U.S. Bureau of Statistics, workers between the ages of 20 and 24 account for nearly one-third of restaurant waitstaff, one-fourth of all retail cashiers, and one-fifth of all retail salesclerks. Young workers also occupy a large share of other entry-level service jobs in entertainment and hospitality, such as hotel and motel desk clerks (one-third), ushers and ticket-takers (one-fifth) and baggage handlers (one-sixth).

Young people also make up a disproportionate share of the low-wage workforce hardest hit by the pandemic, period, according to new research from the Brookings Institution. Scholars Martha Ross, Nicole Bateman, and Alec Friedhoff find that workers ages 18 to 24 comprise nearly one in four low-wage workers, with the most common occupations being retail, food service, and lower-level administrative support. Many of these young workers can ill afford any loss of income: Among the 13 percent who lack a college degree, the median hourly wage is just $8.55. Worse yet, one in five of these workers is the sole earner in their family; 14 percent are also caring for children.

NiNis worldwide

A new crop of “not in school, not working”

Even before the current crisis, many young people were already in dire economic circumstances. According to the Social Science Research Council, as many as 4.5 million young adults ages 16 to 24 were not in school nor working in 2017, the latest year for which data are available. No doubt this figure has already skyrocketed.

Unfortunately, unemployment might be only the start of young workers’ worries in the coming months.

The sudden closure of colleges and universities means that multiple cohorts of students are missing out on opportunities to lay the foundations of their future careers. “Job fairs and internships have been called off, as have debating competitions, graduate school admission tests and conferences that are essential opportunities to network and get jobs,” writes The Hechinger Report.

A different economy after COVID

Other hazards also loom in the future job market that could disadvantage younger workers. For instance, the pandemic may also accelerate the push to automation, as researchers Mark Muro, Robert Maxim and Jacob Whiton of the Brookings Institution argue, which would also hit younger workers the hardest. According to their analysis, as many of 49 percent of workers ages 16 to 24 are in jobs vulnerable to automation.

Moreover, the current massive disruptions in higher education and in business likely also mean that skills gaps will worsen as training programs are put on hold and businesses struggle simply to survive. Shortages of qualified workers will not only significantly hamper recovery efforts in the future but handicap current industries’ efforts to retool themselves to a radically changed environment.

Vulnerable young workers

Worldwide impacts for youth workers

The same story is playing out globally. According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), young people are roughly twice as likely to be unemployed compared to adults. After the global recession in 2009, adult employment grew uninterrupted but the number of young people employed contracted by more than 15 percent. In 2018, 21.2 percent of global youth were neither employed nor in education and training.

The COVID-19 pandemic is inducing a global labor shock both because workers cannot carry out their jobs and may have lost their jobs, but also because consumer demand especially in services industries has fallen off and could be slow to return to previous levels. In a vicious cycle, billions in lost labor income will further suppress the consumption of goods and services. At the beginning of April, the ILO estimated global unemployment would rise between 5.3 million and 24.7 million, but with 22 million Americans alone filing for unemployment over the last four weeks, this estimate is already vastly inaccurate. The long-term damage to young workers’ prospects is incalculable.

What next?

Economies around the world are already responding with rescue packages aimed at blunting some of the economic hardship the pandemic is creating. But as the crisis wears on and, with luck, economies can begin to recover, the long-term plight of young workers will need much more attention.

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Anne Kim is a contributing editor to Washington Monthly and the author of Abandoned: America’s Lost Youth and the Crisis of Disconnection, forthcoming in 2020 from the New Press. Her writings on economic opportunity, social policy, and higher education have appeared in numerous national outlets, including the Washington Monthly, the Washington Post, Governing and Atlantic.com, among others. She is a veteran of the think tanks the Progressive Policy Institute and Third Way as well as of Capitol Hill, where she worked for Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN). Anne has a law degree from Duke University and a bachelor’s in journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia.

This article originally appeared on TradeVistas.org. Republished with permission.

toilet

TOILET PAPER: A UNIQUELY AMERICAN OBSESSION

The sight of barren grocery store shelves in the first few weeks of the coronavirus crisis sent thousands of shoppers scrambling for basic supplies – including, in the United States, toilet paper. As of April 1, bathroom tissue remained a sought-after commodity nationwide, out of stock at big-box retailers like Costco and Walmart, and even online at Amazon.

This sudden scarcity has made toilet paper as valuable as any other paper currency. Neighbors using the NextDoor app are bartering toilet paper for eggs and other household essentials, reports Bloomberg, and a recently viral Tik-Tok video showed a man tipping delivery drivers with rolls of toilet paper instead of cash. There’s even been a wave of toilet-paper-related crime. In North Carolina, for instance, sheriff’s deputies found a stolen tractor-trailer carrying 18,000 pounds of bathroom issue, while in Florida, police arrested a man for stealing 66 rolls from a Marriott hotel. A surging number of price-gouging investigations have also focused on the exploitation of desperate shoppers; some chain stores, for example, have reportedly demanded $10 a roll, along with $26 thermometers and $40 for a single pair of face masks.

Americans, however, might be unique in their fixation on toilet paper, despite reports of toilet paper panic-buying in other parts of the world. Americans are not only the world’s largest producers of toilet paper, they are also its most prolific users. In fact in many places globally, toilet paper – along with basic sanitation – is an unimaginable luxury. Toilet paper shortages, it turns out, are truly a first-world worry.

In global toilet paper usage, Americans are on a roll

According to Tissue World Magazine (yes, there is such a thing), North American consumers used an average of 25 kilograms of toilet paper per person in 2018 – or the equivalent of 144 Charmin Mega-Rolls – far outstripping the average global per capita usage of just 5 kilograms a year. By comparison, consumers in western Europe and Japan used only about 15 kilograms per person, while toilet paper usage is close to negligible in Africa, the Middle East and many parts of Asia.

Who Uses the Most Tissue

The vast bulk of the toilet paper Americans use is domestically produced. According to the market forecasting firm IndexBox, just 7.5 percent of Americans’ bathroom tissue is imported. Even so, the United States is still the world’s largest importer of toilet tissue, accounting for 9.4 percent of global imports, according to MIT Media Lab’s Observatory of Economic Complexity (OEC). China, meanwhile is the world’s largest exporter, followed by Germany, Japan, Poland and Italy. China, does not, however, export much of its toilet paper to the United States; rather, 80 percent of Chinese exports end up in other parts of Asia, Africa and Europe. What toilet paper the United States does import comes primarily from Canada and Mexico.

TP imports

Unlike with other categories of consumer goods, Americans don’t rely on foreign toilet paper because its domestic production is so strong. Among the nation’s top manufacturers are global consumer products giants such as Kimberly-Clark (maker of Cottonelle and Scott); Procter & Gamble (the maker of Charmin and creator of Mr. Whipple); and Koch Industries’ Georgia-Pacific (maker of Quilted Northern and Angel Soft). Clearwater Paper Corporation, which reportedly operates one of the world’s largest toilet paper factories in Lewiston, Idaho, is the nation’s biggest maker of store-brand toilet paper, such as for the grocery chain Kroger and for Costco. (According to the Idaho Statesman, each of the factory’s 1300 workers received 36 free rolls of toilet paper, as well as 24 rolls of paper towels, in what another local news outlet described as a “pandemic bonus.”)

Why the world isn’t flush with toilet paper

Global trade in toilet paper totaled $24.4 billion in 2018 – a relatively small figure compared to other consumer goods such as cosmetics ($44.5 billion), shoes ($99.6 billion) or refrigerators ($43.1 billion). International trade accounts for about 22 percent of global tissue consumption, according to one market analysis.

One reason that toilet paper-dependent countries like the United States rely on domestic production is that it’s the cheapest option. The United States, for instance, has plentiful supplies of both virgin and recycled wood pulp, which are the raw materials for toilet paper. And because of its bulk, toilet paper is also expensive to transport, which means that foreign toilet paper would be more costly by comparison – at least as a finished product. In fact, more than a third of the global trade in toilet paper is in so-called “parent rolls” of tissue – giant rolls that are converted by paper mills into smaller rolls and then packaged into the plastic-wrapped six-packs you would (normally) find on the shelf.

But there are other reasons why there is no vast global market for toilet paper, despite the central role it seemingly plays in Americans’ everyday lives. One is the popularity of bidets in many parts of the industrialized world, including in Europe and especially in Asia. As Tissue World Magazine points out, today’s high-tech bidets are stiff competition for low-tech toilet paper. In Japan, for instance, “high-tech toilets based on water and/or air jetting with several additional functions, including automatic lid opening, music, ozone deodorant systems and urinalysis, seem to have had some negative impact on toilet tissue consumption.” Among the most popular of these luxury bidets is the Washlet “personal cleaning system,” manufactured by Japan’s TOTO. In October 2019, the company celebrated its 50 millionth sale of the Washlet.

Bidets are potentially even catching on in the United States – perhaps in part to the current toilet paper panic as well-heeled consumers look for ways to do without toilet paper altogether. Wired, for example, recently reported a spike in Americans’ interest in bidets, including a deluge of calls to domestic bidet manufacturing startup Tushy. “This could be the tipping point that finally gets Americans to adopt the bidet,” CEO Jason Ojalvo told the magazine.

But perhaps the most significant reason the rest of the world doesn’t share Americans’ attachment to toilet paper is that this most basic of human rights – access to sanitation – does not exist in vast swathes of the globe. Not only is toilet paper unavailable, so are toilets.

A global crisis in sanitation

According to the United Nations, more than half the global population – 4.2 billion people – live without access to “safely managed” sanitation, which the UN defines as access to a “hygienic, private toilet that safely disposes of people’s waste.” As many as 673 million resort to “open defecation,” which contributes enormously to the transmission of disease. More than 2 billion people drink water contaminated by feces, the UN further reports.

One tragic result is that 432,000 people die each year from diarrheal diseases as a result of inadequate sanitation, according to the UN, including 297,000 children under the age of five. According to Rose George, author of The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters, diarrhea kills a child every 15 seconds. In contrast, she writes, “Modern sanitation has added 20 years to the average human life.”

Unfortunately, just 40 out of 152 countries that have pledged to provide universal sanitation by 2030 are on track to reach this goal, the result of funding shortfalls, increasing water pollution, poor governance and conflict. The current global crisis with COVID-19, certain to ravage the developing world, will set back this progress even more. In fact, the lack of sanitation – including access to clean water for hand hygiene – could accelerate the spread of disease in many parts of the world, adding to the pandemic’s already shocking human toll.

While it’s only a matter of time before U.S. grocery store shelves are stocked again with what Americans consider the most basic of staples, many more nations have far to go before they can experience the luxury of that deprivation.

_________________________________________________________________

Anne Kim is a contributing editor to Washington Monthly and the author of Abandoned: America’s Lost Youth and the Crisis of Disconnection, forthcoming in 2020 from the New Press. Her writings on economic opportunity, social policy, and higher education have appeared in numerous national outlets, including the Washington Monthly, the Washington Post, Governing and Atlantic.com, among others. She is a veteran of the think tanks the Progressive Policy Institute and Third Way as well as of Capitol Hill, where she worked for Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN). Anne has a law degree from Duke University and a bachelor’s in journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia.

This article originally appeared on TradeVistas.org. Republished with permission.

trade

Laboring for Trade

Labor provisions are an increasingly important feature in trade agreements. But do they work?

How countries treat their workers might seem unconnected to the movement of goods and services across national borders. Yet in many trade negotiations, a trading partner’s labor standards are an increasingly important concern.

The fate of the pending United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), for instance, hinged for months on bipartisan support for the pact’s provisions around labor. In fact, the Trump Administration made major efforts to woo organized labor and ultimately secured the support of the AFL-CIO, thereby ensuring the agreement’s passage through the Democratically-controlled House.

But despite the attention paid to labor provisions in trade deals like USMCA, domestic policy, not trade agreements, might be the most direct – and most effective – way to improve workers’ lot, especially in advanced countries like the United States. As important as labor provisions have become to trade agreements, available research points to a mixed record on their impacts.

More and more common in trade agreements

Trade and labor standards have been linked concerns since at least the 19th century, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO). As early as the mid-1800s, European social activists were agitating for international labor norms such as an eight-hour workday and the abolition of forced labor. By the end of the century, countries such as the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and New Zealand had passed laws banning the import of products made by prisoners.

But it wasn’t until the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1993 that trade agreements explicitly addressed labor (technically the 1947 Havana Charter contained an article on Fair Labour Standards but did not go into effect). NAFTA included the first side agreement on labor standards, the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation (NAALC), which established a system of “cooperative activities” that the United States, Mexico and Canada agreed to undertake together to improve worker treatment.

The floodgates opened after NAFTA. In 1996, the World Trade Organization (WTO) adopted The Singapore Ministerial Declaration, embodying a new global consensus on trade and labor. Among other things, the Declaration included a commitment to international core labor standards while rejecting the use of labor standards for “protectionist purposes.”

Today, labor provisions are increasingly de rigeur in trade deals. By the ILO’s count, 77 trade agreements negotiated globally in 2016 included labor provisions, compared to just three in 1995. Overall, says the ILO, more than a quarter of global trade pacts reached in 2016 – 28.8 percent – addressed labor standards in some way.

 

# ageements with L provisions text

Rationale for labor provisions

Proponents of labor standards in trade agreements cite several justifications for including these provisions. The first is moral: Trade agreements set the rules for international trade, and the inclusion of labor standards reinforces the social and human rights norms valued by the international community. Some argue that rich countries like the United States have a particular duty to use their leverage and buying power to raise standards in developing nations.

Another rationale is economic. As the ILO notes, “[L]abour provisions are tools against unfair competition, the main idea being that violations of labour standards can distort competitiveness (‘social dumping’) and should be addressed in a manner similar to that employed against other unfair trading practices.” In particular, labor standards arguably prevent a “race to the bottom,” where countries compete to produce ever-cheaper goods by shortchanging their workers. Some U.S. advocates further argue that labor standards can level the field between workers in competing countries, potentially stemming the tide of offshoring from wealthier countries to lower-paying ones and protecting domestic jobs. (More on this argument below.)

A third rationale for these provisions is political. Labor provisions, especially in the United States, have become a powerful bargaining chip for competing interests, as the USMCA and other trade agreements have shown. The strength of a trade pact’s labor provisions has also become a proxy for the “fair” trade that the public increasingly wants to see; trade deals might be more likely to win public approval if its advocates can tout “tough” labor provisions that purport to protect U.S. jobs.

ILO chart of provisions in agreements

Carrots, sticks and helping hands

While becoming increasingly complex, labor provisions tend to fall into several basic categories. First, so-called “promotional” provisions aim to encourage countries to raise labor standards by defining a set of commitments and detailing a variety of “cooperative” activities countries might do to discuss, implement and monitor these obligations.

For instance, in the CAFTA-DR agreement involving the United States, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic, the United States agreed to finance an array of “capacity building” activities aimed at improving countries’ infrastructure around workers’ rights. These projects, according to the ILO, included “increasing workers’ awareness of their labour rights, increasing the budget and equipment of labour ministries and labour judiciaries, training labour officials, and setting up centres providing legal assistance to workers.”

While these types of provisions could be considered “carrots,” agreements can also include “sticks” in the form of “conditional” provisions requiring a trading partner to meet certain obligations before a deal is ratified. The United States’ trade agreement with Morocco, for instance, required Morocco to raise its minimum working age from 12 to 15 and to lower the maximum number of hours in its workweek from 48 to 44 as a precondition to ratification.

Text graphic weak enforcement criticism of NAFTA

Other “sticks” include provisions calling for sanctions if a country’s commitments aren’t met and specifying the mechanisms for policing and enforcement. Among the processes detailed would be who is entitled to file a complaint and how disputes will be settled (e.g, through arbitration). Among the chief complaints of NAFTA’s critics was weak enforcement, which is one reason why this issue became a major sticking point in negotiations over NAFTA’s successor, the USMCA. For instance, while more than 40 labor complaints were filed under NAFTA, none have so far led to sanctions, a result that many labor advocates wanted to see remedied.

Impacts on workers’ conditions and on trade flows

Research on the impacts of labor provisions in trade agreements is relatively scant. For one thing, measuring the direct impacts of these provisions on workers’ circumstances is hard to do. What research there is, however, shows that labor provisions can benefit workers in developing countries, especially if they have the support of wealthier trading partners in building capacity for creating and implementing reforms.

In a 2017 survey of existing research, the ILO found that labor provisions in trade agreements can provide a modest boost to workforce participation in some countries, particularly among women, and even help ease the gender gap in wages. According to the ILO, the average workforce participation rates in countries subject to labor provisions is about 1.6 percentage points higher than in countries without such obligations. “One possible explanation for this effect is that labour provision-related policy dialogue and awareness-raising can influence people’s expectations of better working conditions, which in turn increase their willingness to enter the labour force,” says the ILO.

In certain circumstances, conditional labor provisions can dramatically benefit workers. In Cambodia, for instance, according to the ILO, labor provisions included in the Cambodia–United States Bilateral Textile Agreement helped reduce the gender gap in Cambodia’s textile sector by as much as 80 percent between 1999 and 2004. “These results are partly due to the incentive structure of the agreement, which tied export quotas to compliance with labour standards, but also to a monitoring programme (Better Factories Cambodia) that was implemented with the support of the ILO and backed by the social partners,” the ILO found.

What the evidence does not show is that higher labor standards in developing countries dampens the flow of trade by raising the price of goods produced. In fact, research shows the opposite – countries subject to labor provisions often see a slight increase in their exports. According to a 2017 analysis by the World Trade Organization (WTO), labor provisions can benefit low-income countries by “increas[ing] demand for products by concerned consumers” in richer countries, thereby leading to more trade. (Consider, for instance, the growing consumer demand for “fair trade” coffee.) Similarly, the ILO finds that countries entering trade agreements with labor provisions see a slightly greater increase in the value of trade compared to countries without such provisions.

L provisions no substitute for domestic action

Both the WTO and ILO analyses caution, however, that the countries seeing the biggest impacts on their workers also enjoyed strong domestic support for labor reforms. While entering a trade agreement with labor provisions might have helped catalyze important shifts in domestic policy, the agreements themselves are no substitute for domestic action. In fact, in places where domestic enthusiasm for labor market reforms are weak, the impacts of labor provisions have been minimal.

One case in point is Guatemala, where the AFL-CIO and six Guatemalan trade unions filed a complaint in 2008 alleging that Guatemala was failing its obligations under CAFTA-DR. After nine years of procedural and other delays, an arbitration panel convened under the auspices of CAFTA-DR in Guatemala failed to find that Guatemala had breached its obligations under the agreement, despite the lack of progress on systemic reforms and widespread reports of anti-union violence.

No replacement for domestic policy

The inclusion of robust labor provisions in trade agreements reinforces international norms for just worker treatment. It can also promote much-needed reforms in nations with weak standards and help protect workers from exploitation.

Wealthy countries should not, however, count on labor provisions in trade agreements as a principal mechanism for protecting domestic jobs.

For one thing, as we’ve written elsewhere on this site, companies’ decisions about where to put their factories depends on many factors other than the cost of labor, such as proximity to markets, intellectual property protections, tax and regulatory considerations, and the skill of the workforce. Second, labor provisions in trade agreements are, at best, a highly indirect way of leveling the playing field between workers from one country to another. Third and most significantly, the biggest future threat to a worker’s job might not be a lower-paid worker in a maquila but a robot.

While apocalyptic forecasts of automation’s impacts are no doubt overblown, there’s little question that advances in automation will prove immensely disruptive in coming decades. For instance, one 2018 analysis by Price Waterhouse Cooper predicts that nearly 40 percent of U.S. jobs could be susceptible to automation by 2030.

Ultimately, the best protection for workers are domestic policies that prepare workers for disruption and smooth their transition in the event of displacement. These policies can include better and more robust adjustment assistance for displaced workers; bigger government investments in career and technical education, particularly for incumbent workers; greater coordination among governments, businesses and schools so that workers have the right skills to fill gaps in the workforce; and increased public support for research into innovations that will lead to more jobs.

This is not to say that the energy spent on negotiating labor provisions in trade agreements isn’t time well-spent. What policymakers and the public need to know is what these provisions can — and can’t — do.

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Anne Kim

Anne Kim is a contributing editor to Washington Monthly and the author of Abandoned: America’s Lost Youth and the Crisis of Disconnection, forthcoming in 2020 from the New Press. Her writings on economic opportunity, social policy, and higher education have appeared in numerous national outlets, including the Washington Monthly, the Washington Post, Governing and Atlantic.com, among others. She is a veteran of the think tanks the Progressive Policy Institute and Third Way as well as of Capitol Hill, where she worked for Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN). Anne has a law degree from Duke University and a bachelor’s in journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia.

This article originally appeared on TradeVistas.org. Republished with permission.

international

International Diploma-cy

Higher education is one of the world’s leading “exports”

To compete in today’s knowledge-driven economy, college-bound students are increasingly going global in their pursuit of a top-notch degree. Since 2001, the number of students pursuing studies abroad has more than doubled, from 2.1 million to 5.0 million in 2018.

As one result, higher education is fast becoming one of the world’s leading “exports.” Many people may not think of education as an “export,” but when an international student comes to the United States, for example, the monies spent on tuition, fees and living expenses are considered “exports” of education services.

The current world leader in education exports is the United States, whose 7,021 two- and four-year colleges and universities attracted nearly a quarter of the world’s international students in 2018. According to the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC), revenues from U.S. higher education accounted for about one-fourth of the $903 billion global education services industry in 2011.

Top host destinations for foreign students

International students are the consumers of higher education exports

On the other side of the equation, the world’s leading “consumers” of higher education are China and India, both of whom see enormous benefits in sending hundreds of thousands of their students abroad to take advantage of educational opportunities and to bring that knowledge home.

Chinese students, for example, make up 33 percent of all international students in the United States, according to a 2019 report by the Institute of International Education (IIE), while the share of students from India has also grown dramatically. In 2018, China sent 369,548 students to America, while India sent 202,014. For both groups of students, the most popular fields of study are science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), followed by business and management.

American schools also benefit from the presence of international students, which is one reason why their numbers are rising (although their share of total U.S. college enrollment is still only about five percent). In addition to the cultural and social diversity these students bring, they also pay “full freight” – out-of-state tuition in the case of public universities or sticker price in the case of private schools. At some schools, international students even pay extra. At the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, for example, international students paid a $2,800 surcharge during the 2012-2013 school year.

These well-paying students have been a boon for schools facing rising costs or cash-strapped by cuts in state education budgets. But even elite institutions find these students attractive. For example, according to the ITC, foreign students made up at least 15 percent of the students entering Boston University, Columbia University and the University of Pennsylvania during the 2011-2012 school year and at least 10 percent of students at such flagship state schools as the University of California-Berkeley. Many schools also actively recruit foreign students and even hire “brokers” to find students abroad. The ITC also reports that a growing number of public colleges and universities are forming state-wide consortia, such as “Study New Jersey” and “Study Wisconsin,” to host recruiting fairs and conferences for foreign students.

US Colleges with Greatest Share of Foreign Students 2018

Global competition to provide higher education

American schools, however, are increasingly facing competition from other countries that see the same opportunities. India, for example, recently decided to raise by 10,000 the number of foreign students admitted to its engineering schools as a way to improve the prestige of its national universities. As a result, the U.S. share of the international student market is slipping. While the number of international students going to America continues to climb, its overall share of these students in 2016 was three percent lower than it was in 2001.

While the dominance of U.S. higher education will likely continue for quite some time, competition for the world’s “best and brightest” will only get more fierce.

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This article was updated as of November 20, 2019.

Anne Kim

 

Anne Kim is a contributing editor to Washington Monthly and the author of Abandoned: America’s Lost Youth and the Crisis of Disconnection, forthcoming in 2020 from the New Press. Her writings on economic opportunity, social policy, and higher education have appeared in numerous national outlets, including the Washington Monthly, the Washington Post, Governing and Atlantic.com, among others. She is a veteran of the think tanks the Progressive Policy Institute and Third Way as well as of Capitol Hill, where she worked for Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN). Anne has a law degree from Duke University and a bachelor’s in journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia.

This article originally appeared on TradeVistas.org. Republished with permission.